Despite defeating the Baltimore Ravens 13-3 last week, the Cleveland Browns’ chances of making the NFL playoffs remain slim. Sure, it’s likely that the Browns are going to be done sooner instead of later but, until that happens, Cleveland technically can still make it. Mind you, the Browns do need a lot of things to go their way between now and the end of the season but despite the rough start, there’s still hope on the shores of Lake Erie.
With that said, only the top seven teams advance to the postseason. As the NFL enters Week 16 of the 2022-2023 season, the 6-8 Browns are currently in 12th place in the AFC standings. Being five spots out of the final AFC playoff spot is certainly a tough hill to climb with just three games remaining in the season which is why many estimate that Cleveland ultimately only has a less than 1% chance of making the postseason.
So, what all needs to happen for the Browns to make the playoffs? Obviously, it starts with the Browns winning out to finish the season with a record of 9-8. Considering the quality of the opponent to end the season, that’s certainly doable if you’re Cleveland. In fact, the Browns are three-point favorites on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints in a Christmas Eve tilt at home. Considering the impending winter storm, it should be to Cleveland’s advantage since the Saints play their home games in a dome. After that, the Browns wrap up their season twice on the road against the lackluster Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Again, both are winnable games for Cleveland and the Browns are plenty talented enough to ensure they don’t blow their chances. But, at the end of the day, Cleveland only controls their own destiny so much. Even if the Browns were to win out the remainder of the way, there’s plenty still going against Cleveland as well. The Browns are eliminated from the postseason if any of the following three teams win in at least once over the course of the final three games:
- Baltimore Ravens
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Miami Dolphins
The Browns don’t hold any tiebreakers over any of these teams. Not only that but, Cleveland also lost head-to-head matchups with the Chargers and Dolphins. Finally, the Browns split the season series with the Ravens but Baltimore has a chance to finish with a better overall record.
After that, it only gets even more complicated for Cleveland going forward. In order to make the postseason all while winning out, the Browns also need all of these teams to lose at least once down the final stretch of games:
- New York Jets
- New England Patriots
Cleveland also needs the following teams to lose at least twice:
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Tennessee Titans
- Las Vegas Raiders
On Thursday night, the Jets lost to the Jaguars so that’s one small step forward for the Browns playoffs-wise. Looking back, Cleveland blowing a game earlier in the season to New York has put them in this position but, thankfully, there’s still a glimmer of hope for the Browns as well.
When looking at the rest of the schedule for the other teams involved, the picture on how Cleveland can make it becomes a bit more clear. Jacksonville is chasing Tennesse for the AFC South division title and they have to play each other in Week 18. If the Titans blow it to the Jaguars on the final week of the season, then Browns fans better start rooting for Deshaun Watson’s former team, the Houston Texans, extra hard in Week 17.
Speaking of Houston, they host Tennessee in Week 16 which is another scenario where Browns fans may want to put on Battle Red. The Titans are also on the road again the following week and should be underdogs in Dallas to play the Cowboys. There’s a chance Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill is done for the season and rookie quarterback Malik Willis will be under center. Willis hasn’t been great when he’s played this year and if that continues, things could be further boosted in favor of Cleveland.
The Patriots realistically could go 0-3 to wrap up the season with games to come against Cincinnati, Miami and Buffalo left on their schedule. Ideally, Cleveland wants New England to beat the Dolphins but, other than that, will be rooting hard for the Bengals and Bills against the Patriots. The Raiders, meanwhile, are in Pittsburgh this weekend to take on the Steelers. Can Browns fans swallow their pride and root for the Steelers? If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to.
Where things get trickiest of all is when it comes to breaking things down for the Dolphins, Chargers and Ravens. Miami can easily win out against the Green Bay Packers, Patriots and Jets to close the season. Los Angeles, meanwhile, travels to Indianapolis to play the hapless Colts then conclude the season against the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos, all winnable games. Finally, with Baltimore, they host Atlanta and Pittsburgh and then finish the season in Cincinnati.
Again, if the Ravens win just once, it’s over for the Browns and their postseason hopes. There’s a lot in play here and a lot that needs to go perfectly for Cleveland. But, again, the Browns are somehow still in the thick of things until the bitter end. If it happens, call it a holiday miracle.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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